HBO Max’s ‘Who Killed Garrett Phillips?’ delves into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the tragic death of 12-year-old Garrett Phillips in his Potsdam, New York apartment in late October 2011. Across its two parts, the documentary weaves a narrative through interviews with residents, family members of the victim, and the prime suspect. The unsettling tale unfolds against a backdrop of racial bias and police incompetence, highlighting the challenges in unraveling the truth years after the incident occurred. Though Tandy Cyrus — the victim’s mother — did not participate in the show, she remains a central character in the story.
Who Is Tandy Cyrus?
Tandy Cyrus found herself employed at a bar in Potsdam, where fate introduced her to Oral “Nick” Hillary, a renowned local soccer star. Juggling the responsibilities of being a single mother, Tandy was dedicated to raising her two adolescent boys, Garrett and Aaron, whom she shared with Robert Phillips. Unfortunately, Tandy’s life took a tragic turn when Robert succumbed to a brain aneurysm when Garrett was just three years old. She and her two sons resided on the second floor of a century-old apartment at 100 Market Street in October 2011.
Nick, a regular patron at her bar, had three children from a previous relationship with Stacia Lee. The platonic bond between two single parents eventually blossomed into a romantic partnership. As their relationship deepened, Nick and Tandy took the significant step of moving in together. However, the idyllic union soon encountered complications as both individuals appeared involved in simultaneous romantic entanglements with other people. She also dated John Jones, an erstwhile St. Lawrence County sheriff’s deputy.
According to the show, Nick stood out as one of the few African Americans among the Potsdam residents. Recalling his dynamics with Tandy’s family, specifically with Garrett and Aaron, he shared instances where the boys lamented encountering racial slurs at school, a consequence of his relationship with their mother. In a candid interview with NBC, Tandy portrayed Nick as a considerably more rigid parent, emphasizing his thorough daily planning. She claimed her son, Garrett, then 12, expressed substantial discomfort toward her new partner.
Stressing how Nick was allegedly a control freak, Tandy claimed in the NBC interview that he had warned her, “If I didn’t get Garrett under control or get him on a more strict schedule, then when he got older, I wasn’t gonna be able to control him.” However, Nick expressed shock when confronted with the accusations and categorically denied any bad blood with the young boy. After residing together for about a year, Tandy and her sons moved out. She admitted that Garrett’s strong aversion toward Nick was the primary catalyst for her separation.
Little did she expect her final moments with her elder son would be spent at a hospital with Garrett unresponsive in an intensive care unit room. Tandy was at Aaron’s basketball practice when her firstborn rode his RipStik back home from school on October 24, 2011. When the authorities informed her about a mishap occurring inside her apartment with Garrett, the worried mother initially thought he might have fallen, “not knowing how badly he was hurt or what had happened.” Hence, she was shocked when she discovered her son was in cardiac arrest.
In a September 2016 interview with ABC News, Tandy recalled witnessing bruise marks on Garrett’s face and neck. She stated, “It felt like it was somebody else’s life. I felt like I was watching it happen to someone else.” The distressed mother recounted how the apologetic doctors told her that her son had succumbed to his injuries. She added, “He’s 12 years old. Healthy, athletic. They told me he fell. And I get there, and they’re telling me he’s in cardiac arrest. And then they’re telling me that he’s gone. I had no idea what happened.”
Where is Tandy Cyrus Now?
When the grieving mother learned that Garrett had been strangled to death, Tandy immediately zeroed in on Nick as the prime suspect. Though she conceded she had never witnessed him losing his temper or abusing a child, she stated she undoubtedly felt Garrett was the killer. During the ABC News interview two days before Nick’s verdict, Tandy remained steadfast in her conviction that he was responsible for her son’s death and claimed that no amount of persuasion could sway her from that belief that her ex-boyfriend was guilty.
She said, “I don’t know that there is a severe enough punishment. I hope he spends the rest of his life in prison. But he still gets to live.” Tandy added, “He took my son. He took a big brother, a grandson, a cousin, and a nephew. Garrett was always happy and always willing to help other kids and other people. He got to go to his sixth-grade graduation or have his driver’s license or high school graduation. No girlfriend. No marriage. He took his whole life.” Tandy has refused to appear on the show and has not commented since the verdict was delivered.